Much is made about the need to improve Americans’ “financial literacy”—nuts-and-bolts tools such as knowing which mutual fund to buy, how to avoid banking fees, and so on. But the Kilgore revolution was concerned with a more important pedagogical job: nothing less than the democratization of financial and economic knowledge. While it’s nice to know about financial and consumer products and services, it’s much more important to know about financial and corporate institutions and actors because they shape the world we live in. That’s the kind of “financial literacy” that counts.
Much of the business press today is built on a foundation laid by Kilgore. In a way, this book is another of his legacies.
Of course, business news, like the rest of the media, has continued to evolve. The mid-1990s saw an explosion of business news to accompany Americans’ stampede into the stock market (much later than many imagine). In 1996, by one count, twenty-two new business publications were launched. CNBC rose from cable TV afterthought to cultural icon. The 2000s brought even more dramatic changes—the tech wreck, a severe advertising recession, and the rise of the Internet started a great unraveling of institutional media and triggered the emergence of new journalism forms. We are now in a transitional moment: weakened legacy institutions bobbing in a vibrant, conversational, chaotic, and atomized digital sea. The degree to which what was lost from mainstream media is offset by gains in new media is a debate for another day.
The important thing is that great business journalism is going strong in both new and old forms and media. In this volume, the point is forcefully driven home by Zach Carter and Ryan Grim’s X ray of the Washington debate on bankcard swipe fees for Huffington Post and by Jesse Eisinger and Jake Bernstein’s expose of crimes and misdemeanors at Merrill Lynch for ProPublica, which won the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a piece that never appeared in print. Morgan Housel’s deconstruction of bubble-era policymakers “Greenspan, Rubin, and a Roomful of Hypocrites,” The Motley Fool) obviously represents the tip of a huge iceberg of amazing online economic commentary and analysis.
It’s not going overboard to say that great business writing is the vital link between the public and the institutions that shape our economic lives. That’s why we’re proud to present Best Business Writing 2012 and even prouder to do it now when the economic currents are so complex and the stakes are so high.
And besides, these are just such great reads. Thanks for picking us up.